It’s Not Your Father’s GOP
The future of American conservatism is in the hands of the young, and it needs a radically different direction from the old one.
Whether or not President Trump remains President Trump, his impact on the trajectory of the Republican party is undeniable. The party will never return to the party of Ronald Reagan (eternal rest grant unto his soul). Rather than mourning the death of the old party, conservatives should be thankful for what President Trump has done for the movement—regardless of how we view the man’s shortcomings (of which one could find many).
President Trump connected with a class of voters that the elites have long looked down upon—until, of course, it came time to cash in their votes (we all know the type of paternalistic pandering, particularly about religious faith, that comes around every election cycle). I’m talking about America’s multiracial, multiethnic, socially conservative middle class—the people who make America so great.
Despite constant allegations that President Trump embodies America’s racist history, he won the highest percentage of non-white voters of any Republican since 1960. Indeed, Trump’s heaviest losses were among white, upper-class males. Whether one believes the president is actually a racist or not, this demographic shift is momentous, and we conservatives, particularly those of us who belong to traditional faith communities, should welcome it with open arms. The 2020 election, far from being the blue wave that we were promised by America’s millionaire pundits, has thus far shown that many Americans reject the elites and their soft totalitarianism, the globalism that has made the rich richer and the poor poorer and has encouraged constant war, and the growing rise of secularism and its outright mockery of religious faith.
What was the genius behind the Trump-led realignment of the GOP? The combination of traditional religious belief and its sister, social conservatism, with economic populism and foreign restraint. (One quick disclaimer: I don’t contend that the president himself holds traditional religious beliefs, as there is certainly much evidence that he doesn’t. But he has been friendlier to this group of believers, particularly orthodox Christians and Catholics,than any President in recent memory.) What President Reagan and his GOP-establishment successors ultimately failed to realize is that conservatism is not at odds with placing American economic interests first—including through social security and other social programs that actually work (many do not)—and ending constant, profit-driven wars.
For all his faults, President Trump has presented the Republican Party with the opportunity to finally realize its potential as the party of America’s faithful working class. We can finally be the party that combines the fullness of Catholic and orthodox Christian social teaching with the principles of prosperity that have made this country exceptional for so many years; the party that rejects “woke” capitalism and cancel culture and embraces Senator Rubio’s common-good capitalism and the mercy of second chances; the party that rejects federal funding for abortion and embraces the sanctity and dignity of human life from the womb to the tomb; the party that believes in law and order and keeping our communities safe but aims to dismantle unjust criminal sentencing schemes (I’m looking at you, Bill Clinton) and the structures that keep the poor from rising; the party that believes in the idea of America and desires to build a nation where everyone can flourish, not just those who subscribe to the rapidly changing cultural orthodoxy. This ideal of what we can be is not so far off—that is, if we can capitalize on this momentum.
With all this potential in mind, there is one major demographic that this new conservative shift needs to account for: the young, including both Gen Z and Millenials. In the 2020 election, there were 27 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans in the 18-29 year-old age range, an increase of 8 percent from 2016. For the 30-44 year-old age range, the Democrats saw a 7 percent advantage, although their total margin actually decreased 3 percent from 2016. Surely, much of this has to do with the summer of activism we just watched unfold before our eyes. But there is no disputing that America’s younger generations are trending leftward.
So, my fellow Gen Z and Millenial conservatives, where do we go from here as a movement? How do we harness the energy of a new era of conservatism and win over our peers in the process?
For starters, we must emphasize that religious faith and religious liberty are foundational to any successful republic. Not only that, but religiosity belongs in the public sphere. It is not something that we keep tucked away in a drawer or in the closet out of fear that Big Brother and his army of woke capitalists will cancel us for believing that God exists and that we owe Him, not the government, our ultimate due. We must be faithful witnesses in our professional lives, even when it’s uncomfortable.
We must buy into the belief that subsidiarity and small government do not negate the government’s clear role in forming and maintaining the conscience of its population. We are not social libertarians: we do not believe in laissez-faire morality. Liberty (freedom to do the right thing) is not the same as license (freedom to do whatever you want). The government thus has a duty, unto God and unto the citizenry, to uphold the natural law, to protect marriage and the family, and to protect the most vulnerable in our population—including the unborn, racial and ethnic minorities, and the aging. And we must constantly remind our peers that we Christians have always stood for these principles.
We must focus on reinvigorating America’s dwindling middle class and on helping everyone prosper, not just those who are born into elite status and material wealth. We must acknowledge the ills of crony capitalism and unrestricted free trade and instead embrace common-good capitalism and refuse to deal with countries, like China, that persecute their own citizens en masse for holding religious beliefs that privilege God over the state. We must reject and combat the rising wave of socialism, an ideology that has historically led to millions of deaths.
We must always remember our duty to lift up the poor among us, to truly invest in them as human beings in a way that will actually alleviate their poverty and empower them to flourish. This means looking for and implementing innovative solutions in areas where both the left’s welfare state and our “slash the welfare state” approaches have failed.
We must actively seek solutions to the broken healthcare system, to the extremes of criminal sentencing schemes, and to widespread violence in our communities. We must emphasize that almost all of this should be done at the local level, acknowledging subsidiarity as a fundamental principle of government.
We must foster and commit to authentic fellowship, not online communities that far too often fail to recognize that we are human beings, not computers. We must encourage membership in religious and civic organizations. We need community. We need each other.
We must respect and cherish the true diversity—our uniqueness as children made in the image and likeness of our Creator. We must welcome with open arms our brothers and sisters of different races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, assuring them that they belong in this movement now and in the future. At the same time, we must remain united over our common purpose—most importantly as human beings with a shared faith in a Creator, then as Americans, and finally as conservatives.
If we accomplish even the majority of this, we will build a movement that lasts, one that saves America’s soul. This movement, unlike the political and social movements we see so often today, is one that seeks to build, not to destroy.
But we have individual obligations, too.
We must act better than our counterparts on the left. We cannot succumb to the violence and destruction that has plagued our cities for the last several months. We must be above name-calling and petty jabs that tear others down, pollute our own souls, and lead to further division. We must nevertheless resist all of the moral lies of the soft-totalitarian elites, never exchanging our souls for temporary comfort. At the same time, we must reach out to our friends on the left with humility and charity. They are all children of God, and we are all prodigal sons and daughters. Let us embrace them with open arms, just as our Father has done with us.
So too must we be better than our largely suburban, country club GOP-establishment predecessors, who have been silent for far too long as people who hate America fight endlessly to destroy her. Whether out of indifference to the moral issues of our time or out of fear of being cancelled, our establishment fathers (and mothers) have failed to live out Christ’s command to “Be not afraid.” They have traded the good life for a life of comfort and safety. We can’t fail in the same way, or America will lose her soul; we will likely suffer the same fate.
Now is the time to be bold, to fight for America’s future, to defend and protect the most vulnerable among us, to seek meaning, and to live lives of virtue. Ultimately, we must do the hard work of fixing ourselves first. And then we must go out into the world, formed by faith and freed from fear, to let them know that we won’t lay down anymore, that we will not cooperate in the great lie that America is an evil and irredeemable country.
Throughout this earthly journey and throughout this young conservative renewal, we must never forget our ultimate destination. When we get there, may St. Peter greet us with cheer and may our God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” A movement oriented toward this eternal end is destined to succeed.
Ben Hachten is a recent law graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. He is an active member of the Federalist Society and several Catholic organizations.